Italy 1-1 Croatia: Pirlo dictates first half, Croatia dominate the second after half-time switch

June 15, 2012

“Croatia initially had problems with Italy’s 3-5-2, but a clever half-time switch by Slaven Bilic got them back into the game. Cesare Prandelli kept the same formation and starting XI, so Mario Balotelli remained upfront despite Antonio Di Natale’s impact as a substitute in the 1-1 draw against Spain. Bilic rewarded the eleven players that played in the 3-1 win over Ireland with a second start. A game of two halves. In the first, Italy recorded 11 shots compared to Croatia’s three. In the second, Croatia ‘won’ this statistic 7-3, summing up the change in the balance of play.” Zonal Marking

Croatia shows fighting spirit vs. Italy
“Fearless Croatia demonstrated that its opening-round victory was more than a fluke, recovering from a goal down to tie Italy 1-1 amid a fiery atmosphere that left Group C finely poised. The game boiled down to a fascinating tactical battle between two of the world’s finest playmakers, Italy’s Andrea Pirlo and Croatia’s Luka Modric. The first half belonged to the 33-year-old Italian, a metronomic midfielder whose departure in 2011 after a decade at AC Milan was meant to ease him into pasture. Pirlo responded by leading Juventus to the Serie A title this past season, and he reveled in this game, alongside teammate Claudio Marchisio, as Italy dominated the initial exchange.” ESPN (Video)

Croatia rallies in second half, forces 1-1 draw with Italy in Group C
“Italy sat back and paid for it Thursday in a 1-1 draw with Croatia at the European Championship. Andrea Pirlo gave Italy the lead with a curving free kick in the 39th minute but Mario Mandzukic was left unmarked to equalize in the 72nd. Italy had numerous other first-half chances from Mario Balotelli, Claudio Marchisio and Antonio Cassano, but the Azzurri lacked finishing quality. Balotelli, in particular, appeared hesitant and missed one opportunity after another. And this time, second-half replacement Antonio Di Natale never really had a chance to score.” SI

Euro 2012: Croatia’s Mandzukic grabs point after Pirlo gives Italy lead
“Italy are still waiting for their first win against Croatia and their first win in this tournament. They seemed to have done enough to secure three points when they held a first-half lead until 18 minutes from the end, though they never played with much assurance and could not complain when the Croatians came back at them to snatch a draw with Mario Mandzukic’s well-taken equaliser.” Guardian

Euro 2012: the story so far…

June 15, 2012

“The sheer mindless idiocy of choosing Ukraine and Poland as UEFA have done for the European finals was duly and hideously exposed when the Russian and Polish fans set about each other before the game between their countries in Warsaw. The Russian hooligans have already disgraced themselves in the streets with no help on that occasion from the Poles. And to think that FIFA in their own wisdom, or perhaps something more sinister, have given the 2018 World Cup to the Russians. So much, as one has emphasised in the past, for the so-called campaign to kick out racism.” World Soccer – Brian Glanville

Holland 1 -2 Germany: The broken team…

June 15, 2012

“A match that Holland needed to win in order to keep chances of qualifying to the knock-out stages of Euro 2012 in their own hands, ended in a bitter defeat. Germany had the better of the game, except maybe in the closing stages when Van Marwijk made some changes and Holland bravely, but desperately, chased an equalizer. In the end, Germany thoroughly deserved the victory, based on their tactical superiority and several key German players outperforming their Dutch counterparts.” 11 tegen 11

Portugal 3-2 Denmark: No tracking from Ronaldo and Rommedahl means goals come from that flank

June 14, 2012

“Silvestre Varela grabbed a late winner as Portugal registered their first win of Euro 2012. Paulo Bento named an unchanged side from the team that lost to Germany – Helder Postiga continued upfront, despite Nelson Oliveira’s positive impact from the bench in the opening game. Morten Olsen also made no changes from Denmark’s surprise 1-0 win over Holland. Think of Portugal and Denmark – not just the current sides, but their style over the course of the century so far – and you think of width. That was the main story here, with little happening in the centre of midfield, and all the attacking thrust coming from the flanks.” Zonal Marking

Ronaldo struggles, but Portugal wins
“In this, the Group of Death, Portugal avoided a premature discovery of the afterlife. Unheralded substitute Silvestre Varela’s late goal earned them a 3-2 victory against a resilient Denmark. The game was an enormously entertaining affair, not least because of the fascinating clash of styles it presented as the wet, hair-gel look of Portugal, all ‘Night At The Roxbury,’ was pitched against Denmark’s Motorhead full-arm sleeve tattoos.” ESPN (Video)

Three thoughts: Portugal’s victory showcases great aerial play at Euro
“Three thoughts after Portugal’s 3-2 victory over Denmark in Lviv, Ukraine. 1. Heading is the new shooting. Portugal’s Pepe and Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner both scored on headers in Wednesday’s Group B match, raising the total to 12 headed goals — out of 30 — at Euro 2012. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the quality of crossing was noticeably poor. Players blamed everything from the Jabulani ball to the high altitude in certain stadiums. Whatever the problem was, it seems to have been solved. Aerial assists from dead-ball situations and open play are markedly improved in this tournament, passes that gives forwards (and plenty of defenders, too) the opportunity to calculate flight paths and attack the ball accordingly. Are fullbacks attacking too much to defend properly? Or is the new Tango 2012 ball simply more stable? We certainly haven’t heard the usual complaints from goalkeepers yet.” SI

Euro 2012: Denmark v Portugal – as it happened
“Good afternoon everybody. If only there was some over-used, catchy but not entirely accurate phrase to describe the one group in a major football tournament in which four apparently strong teams with no obvious whipping boys were drawn together, then it could almost certainly be applied to Group B in Euro 2012. After the first round of games in The Group Of Four Apparently Strong Teams With No Obvious Whipping Boys, Germany and Denmark are cock-a-hoop with one win each, while Portugal and Holland have been forced to lick their wounds, regroup and set about playing catch-up.” Guardian

Germany 2-1 Holland: German flexibility outwits the static Dutch midfield

June 14, 2012

“The second excellent Group B game of the night, and another encounter decided by superiority in one particular zone. Jogi Löw continued with the same starting XI that defeated Portugal on Saturday. Despite widespread predictions that Holland would change at least one of their front four, Bert van Marwijk’s selection featured only one change, with Ron Vlaar dropping out of the side now Joris Mathijsen was fit to start. Clearly, van Marwijk believed that the majority of Holland’s play against Denmark was good – it was just the finishing that let them down.” Zonal Marking

Germans too strong for the Dutch
“The Netherlands hardly needed extra motivation heading into Wednesday night’s encounter with Germany at the European Championships. The countries have plenty of footballing history between them – as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a friendly between these two nations, let alone in a big tournament. More importantly, the Dutch flopped against Denmark in the Group of Death opener and desperately needed all three points. They didn’t get them, losing to Germany 2-1.” ESPN

Euro 2012: Gomez strikes twice as Germany shred Holland’s nerves
“The European Championship is unremitting. Germany may have been a better-balanced side but the match still tilted when Robin van Persie trimmed the Dutch deficit to 2-1. The score, however, was not to alter further. Germany lead the group with six points but Holland, with none at all, still have some prospect of advancing to the quarter-finals.” Guardian

New Century, Old Tensions: Russian & Polish Supporters Clash In Warsaw

June 14, 2012

“For those amongst us of a certain age, the scenes from the streets of Warsaw yesterday afternoon and evening had a wearyingly familiar look to them – streets of mostly young men, mostly wearing terrible clothes, trading kicks and punches on the street of a European city whilst others, including, of course, a media that had over the last few days given every impression of really looking forward to this moment, looked on. The Polish police had been aware of the potential for crowd trouble to come from the fixture between Poland and Russia, but even a tightly co-ordinated effort on their part to keep the peace on the streets of their capital city c0uldn’t fully contain those that wanted to fight and the result was one hundred and eighty-three arrests – with more to expected to follow – and ten injuries.” twohundredpercent

Poles Prepare for Soccer Match Against Russians With a Bitter View to History
“Poland is enjoying its turn on the European stage, co-hosting the prestigious European soccer championship, which the country’s leaders hoped to use as a coming-out party for their newly confident nation. There is only one problem, and it is a familiar one: Russia. Centuries of enmity have defined the relationship between Poland and Russia. Their history is filled with war, conquest and occupation. More recently, a significant minority of Poles have come to believe that the Russians were responsible for the plane crash in 2010 that killed President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and 94 others. However, a Polish government report last year blamed the poor training of a Polish flight crew, as well as Russian air traffic controllers, for the crash.” NY Times

Poland 1-1 Russia: Poland beef up their midfield and prevent Russia counter-attacking

June 13, 2012

“Neither side played particularly open football – but strangely, this turned out to be a very good contest. Wojciech Szczesny was suspended, so Franciszek Smuda continued with Przemyslaw Tyton, the hero of the first game, in goal. More interestingly, he changed the structure of his side, moving to more of a 4-1-4-1 formation, dropping left-winger Maciej Rybus in favour of a solid holder, Dariusz Dudka. Ludovic Obraniak moved to the left.” Zonal Marking

Russia atop wide-open Group A
“Midway through the second half, Russia was poised to deal a mortal psychological blow to longtime rival Poland. But Jakub Blaszczykowski scored an emotional equalizer for his country, allowing the co-hosts to claim a 1-1 tie on a day that saw supporters from both teams clash outside Warsaw’s National Stadium. Russia’s Alan Dzagoev scored in the first half, redirecting Andrei Arshavin’s free kick. But after forcing Russia goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev into several sharp saves, Poland struck back through Blaszczykowski, causing an explosion of cheers from Polish supporters in the 57th minute.” ESPN (Video)

Euro 2012 Day 5: Poland, Russia clash; Czech Republic restores hope
“It was a day of howling sirens, blood-spattered pavement and the menacing thump of baton on riot shield as the warnings of violence before Poland’s game with Russia proved to be distressingly accurate. As 5,000 Russians marched through Warsaw to celebrate their country’s national day, they clashed with Polish hooligans. Police water cannons, tear gas, auditory grenades and 56 arrests were required to restore order.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Euro 2012 Football Daily: Poland strike back to stop Russia’s forward march
“James Richardson has Barry Glendenning and Rob Smyth in the pod for tonight’s Euro 2012 Football Daily. We start by analysing Poland’s draw with Russia, perhaps the best game of the tournament so far, as well as nodding favourably in the direction of the Czech Republic’s victory over Greece. Who will go through from Group A? The learned Jonathan Wilson joins us from Warsaw to share his thoughts.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson, James Richardson (Video)

Euro 2012: Poland 1 Russia 1
“Some matches have a backdrop that is more than just about football, and with more than a dozen military conflicts between the two nations over the last millennia, feelings run high. As well as a presence of around 6000 Polish police officers, an estimated 5000 Russian fans marched through Warsaw. This march wasn’t one proclaiming military might, but political freedom, as June 12 is Russia Day, a national holiday to commemorate the day the Russian parliament declared sovereignty from the former Soviet Union. With the historical context, and the warnings of hooliganism being rife in Poland, there was always a likelihood of conflict off the pitch, and while there have been skirmishes between rival fans, the feeling coming out of Poland at the time of writing is that this has been blown up by the media to satisfy their moral panic coming into the tournament.” twohundredpercent

Gavin Hamilton Euro 2012 diary, Warsaw June 12
“The violence between Russian and Polish fans overshadowed a terrific match in Warsaw tonight. But trouble had been brewing all day, with tension in the air from early on. There was a heavy police presence around the stadium, with helicopters, horses and armed cops waiting for the inevitable.” World Soccer

Czech Republic 2-1 Greece: Greece vulnerable down their left again

June 13, 2012

“The Czech Republic had a very good first ten minutes, and that was enough to put themselves in a commanding position. Both coaches made changes to their starting line-ups, moving their XI closer to the side that finished their opening matches. Michal Bilek started holding midfielder Tomas Hubschman, with Petr Jiracek on the left of midfield. At the back, Michael Kadlec moved into the middle from the left-back position he looked uncomfortable in against Russia, so David Limbersky came into the side at left-back.” Zonal Marking

Czech Republic strikes early, beats Greece 2-1 in Group A at Euro 2012
“Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar scored in the first six minutes to give the Czech Republic a 2-1 win over Greece on Tuesday at the European Championship. Jiracek shot the ball past Greece goalkeeper Costas Chalkias in the third minute after a pass from Tomas Hubschmann sliced through the Greek defense. Three minutes later, Pilar scored his second goal of the tournament, beating Greek defenders to a ball sent across the goal by Czech Republic defender Theodor Gebre Selassie.” SI

Czech Republic back in contention
“A few thoughts from Czech Republic’s 2-1 victory over Greece… What it means: Shorn of its two first-choice center backs, the vaunted Greek defense crumbled early against a grateful Czech team that strengthened its hand in an open Group A. Its final group game against Poland should be winner-take-all.” ESPN (Video)

Euro 2012: Early strikes give Czech Republic upper hand over Greece
“Both centre-backs, gone. The goalkeeper, gone. The game, gone. All with just 22 minutes gone. That was the grim reality for Greece. And then, just when they thought they had grabbed a lifeline, that was gone too, taken from them by a linesman’s flag that the full-back Vassilis Torossidis insisted was no coincidence. Once again, they rebelled. Just as Dimitris Salpigidis had come on at half‑time in their opening game and scored, so Fanis Gekas came on at half‑time in their second game and within seven minutes he too had scored.” Guardian

Euro 2012: Uefa investigates allegations of racism by fans

June 13, 2012

“Uefa is to investigate alleged racist chanting during the Euro 2012 matches between Spain and Italy and Russia v Czech Republic. A Spanish fans’ group has said some of its supporters abused Manchester City and Italy striker Mario Balotelli. Czech Republic defender Theodor Gebre Selassie told reporters he ‘noticed’ racist chants directed at him. Uefa said that no disciplinary proceedings had been started at this stage.” BBC

France 1-1 England: France dominate possession but creativity stifled by England sitting deep

June 12, 2012

“A match with little invention, played at a very slow pace. Laurent Blanc chose his expected side in a 4-3-3, with Florent Malouda shuttling forward from the midfield. Roy Hodgson’s side contained one surprise name – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who started on the left. James Milner started on the other flank, and Danny Welbeck got the nod over Andy Carroll upfront. As expected, France dominated possession (65%) and had 21 shots compared to England’s 5, but many were from long-range, as Blanc’s side struggled to create clear-cut chances.” Zonal Marking

Three thoughts: England’s set play success forces draw with France
“1. England thrives with English goals. In the Balkans and perhaps elsewhere, a goal scored with a powerful header is known as an English goal. If that header comes from a set play, that makes it even more English (British, really, but in the Balkans comprehension of the distinction is blurry). So far in this tournament, that stereotype has proven to be true. Only two goals have been scored with one touch from a set play, and, appropriately, both were scored by players on English clubs: Sean St Ledger of Leicester City for Ireland and Joleon Lescott of Manchester City for England.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

France 1 England 1: match report
“Good point, average creativity. England were under sustained pressure towards the end of their opening Group D game but they held on and will take deserved satisfaction from this result, if not necessarily the display. It’s a good start though. The French were more technical, more assertive through the likes of Franck Ribery and their terrific right-back, Mathieu Debuchy, comfortably the man of the match. Uefa awarded the honour to Samir Nasri, who had brilliantly equalised Joleon Lescott’s header, but Debuchy really impressed most.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

Euro 2012: Samir Nasri’s goal for France echoes England’s old failings
“New coach, but familiar pattern. England have scored before conceding at every international tournament they have competed at since 1990. Yet so often they lose that lead with a goal struck from a similar position. For years England’s weak zone has been the space between defence and midfield and it has constantly been their downfall in opening games. In 2000 the game-changer was Portugal’s Rui Costa, who got all three assists as England squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2. In 2004 Zinedine Zidane scored a superb free-kick after a clumsy Emile Heskey foul in that position. Two years ago Clint Dempsey turned past Frank Lampard’s poor challenge before his weak shot squirmed between Robert Green’s legs.” Guardian – Michael Cox

Not a bad start for England, France
“Not a win for England, but not a bad start. A team devoid of four regulars, including Wayne Rooney, showed grit, organization and calm to earn a 1-1 draw with tournament dark horse France, which extended its unbeaten streak to 22 games. Les Bleus won’t be disappointed, either. Neither team wanted to lose.” ESPN (Video)

England, France draw in Group D
“England held on for a 1-1 draw with France on Monday at the European Championship, giving the Group D favorites one point each. Joleon Lescott put England in the lead with a header in the 30th minute, and Samir Nasri leveled for France shortly before halftime with a strike into the bottom corner of the net. France still has not won a match at a major tournament since the 2006 World Cup. The national team, however, is unbeaten in its last 22 matches.” SI

Ukraine 2-1 Sweden: the Shevchenko show

June 12, 2012

“The story of the tournament so far – Andriy Shevchenko rolled back the years to complete a surprise turnaround in Kiev. Shevchenko was named from the start, despite speculation Oleg Blokhin would use him as a substitute. The rest of the side was as expected. Erik Hamren made a surprise choice in the centre of midfield, playing Rasmus Elm alongside Kim Kallstrom. This meant Ola Toivonen started on the left, and Markus Rosenberg played upfront.” Zonal Marking

Another Euro shock
“Isn’t it fun to see your prognostications go up in flames? The tournament’s been full of head-turning incongruities — Croatian attacking verve, Greek resiliency, Spanish struggles — but the sight of Ukraine and Sweden punching relentlessly did a lot to buck the trend of scoffing pundits who reckoned it might be Euro 2012’s most grueling contest to date. In the end, further shock came from the eventual winners: not the gritty, impressive-in-qualifying Swedes led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but a 2-1 victory for the unfavored co-host complete with a talisman of its own.” ESPN (Video)

Euro 2012: Andriy Shevchenko double gives Ukraine victory over Sweden
“The script was written for Andriy Shevchenko and Ukraine’s most iconic figure followed it to the letter. Back in the arena where he was a ball-boy before he made his name as a young forward for Dynamo Kyiv, Shevchenko turned this pulsating match around in seven remarkable second-half minutes with two opportunist headed goals. The 35-year-old’s body may be creaking but here was compelling evidence that his predatory instincts remain as sharp as ever.” Guardian

Spain 1-1 Italy: Spain start with no striker, Italy use a 3-5-2

June 11, 2012

“A fascinating tactical battle between two systems rarely seen at international level. Vicente del Bosque supposedly had a three-way choice between Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres upfront – but instead chose to play with a false nine, with David Silva and Cesc Fabregas both becoming the highest player up the pitch at different points. Cesare Prandelli went with the 3-5-2 system he’s been using in training over the past two weeks, which meant Daniele De Rossi dropping into the defence, and Emanuele Giaccherini making his international debut as a left wing-back.” Zonal Marking

Three thoughts: Spain’s striker-less attack cost them vs. Italy in draw
“1. Spain’s striker-less attack: Spain’s system, a 4-3-3-0, was the most radical seen in a major international football tournament for decades. Usually the international game, because of the lack of time the players have to work together, lags way behind the club game, but this placed Vicente Del Bosque firmly in the avant-garde. Unusual systems that have been termed “strikerless” at least have a forward — a Francesco Totti, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi — to drop back and create space for runners from deep while still getting forward to score goals themselves. But Spain’s shape, with Andres Inietsa, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva across the nominal forward line had three players who have spent most of the season operating as orthodox attacking midfielders.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Tactics key in Italy-Spain draw
“A mouthwatering matchup between the past two World Cup winners became all the more engrossing as both managers made brave tactical decisions ahead of the game. After a 1-1 tie, one man, Italy’s Cesare Prandelli was left seeming bold. The other, Spain’s Vicente del Bosque, appeared more desperate. The decisions were different responses to a similar problem — the lack of the team’s best-fit striker. Spain’s David Villa was unable to recover from the broken leg sustained at the Club World Cup last December. Italy’s Giuseppe Rossi has been a long-term absence after suffering a double ACL tear.” ESPN (Video)

Euro 2012: Spain v Italy – as it happened
“In the end, a draw is probably the right result and both teams will perhaps be as disappointed as they are satisfied with a point. Italy had the better chances and played in an engaging fashion for much of the game, while Spain’s strikerless formation left much to be desired. But Spain’s response once behind was excellent and a fine goal from Cesc Fabregas got them out of jail; from there, they could and would have won it if Fernando Torres hadn’t been Fernando Torres. Overall another entertaining match in what is becoming a very entertaining tournament, but Spain can produce so much more than they managed in the first half, as indeed they showed in the second half. In the end, I just about forgive them for that ridiculous starting line-up.” Guardian

Rapid Reaction — Spain vs. Italy
“There was elation for Antonio Di Natale, vindication for Cesc Fabregas, and more misery for Fernando Torres. Add it all up, and it made for an action-packed 1-1 tie between Spain and Italy in the Euro 2012 opener for both sides. Italy had broken on top in the 61st minute, when Di Natale ran onto a gorgeous through ball from Andrea Pirlo and coolly finished past Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas. But three minutes later, Fabregas hammered his shot past Gianluigi Buffon after taking a deft pass from David Silva.” ESPN (Video)

Spain, Italy draw in Group C
“For Spain, a tie counted as a bit of a stumble. For Italy, a bit of a reprieve. Opening their bid for a third straight major title, the Spanish rallied to earn a 1-1 tie Sunday against Italy, which entered this year’s European Championship amid another match-fixing scandal. Antonio Di Natale put Italy in front after an excellent setup from Andrea Pirlo in the 61st minute, but Cesc Fabregas tied it for the defending champions three minutes later by finishing off a dazzling display of Spain’s trademark passing game.” SI

Croatia 3-1 Ireland: Ireland invite pressure, but deal with it poorly

June 11, 2012

“Croatia recorded a comfortable victory over Ireland and go top of Group C. Slaven Bilic used Vedran Corluka in the centre of defence and played Darijo Srna in his traditional position of right-back in order to play Ivan Rakitic on the right of midfield, and used Ognjen Vukojevic as his holding midfielder. Giovanni Trapattoni announced his XI days ago, and they started as expected (with 1-11 on their backs). Set-pieces played a large part here, but Croatia were the better side – more inventive with their passing, cleverer with their movement, more ruthless in the penalty box.” Zonal Marking

Three thoughts: Hard-hitting Jelavic helps Croatia upend Ireland
“1. Croatia doesn’t miss Ivica Olic: When Ivica Olic returned from injury to play in the playoff games against Turkey last November, he came as a revelation. He is not as technically gifted a player as some of those Slaven Bilic has to choose from, but he has an energy and a muscularity that drives back opposing defences giving the more skilful midfielders space in which to play. Turkey couldn’t cope with him and Croatia, finding the sort of rhythm they hadn’t shown in over three years, swept to a 3-0 victory in Istanbul, taking an early lead and picking Turkey off on the break.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

No luck for the Irish
“Despite being considered a significant second fiddle to Spain and Italy’s cagey, engaging midday draw, we should have seen this coming. Group C was already pressurized given the four teams pitted against one another, yet that pressure increased thanks to the 1-1 result in Gdansk between the presumptive favorites to advance. (That, plus the tension accompanying overnight reports of fighting between fans that resulted in 14 arrested.)” ESPN (Video)

Gavin Hamilton Euro 2012 diary, Gdansk, June 10

June 11, 2012

“It was always a little premature to hail Denmark’s victory over Holland’s as proof of a new defensive mood enveloping the European game. First Chelsea win the Champions League, then Denmark provide the tournament’s first shock by keeping a clean sheet against much-fancied Holland.” World Soccer

The history of the European Championship

June 11, 2012

“The European Championship in Poland and Ukraine will be the 14th time that the competition has been held. It was the brainchild of Henri Delaunay, the secretary of the French Football Federation, who first came up with the idea of a continental competition in 1927. At first he had little support and it did not start until 1960. Until 1980 only four teams went through to the final stages, but it is now a 16-team competition and one of the major events on the football calendar. All 13 of the previous tournaments have provided memorable moments – and BBC Sport profiles them all ahead of this year’s competition.” BBC

Denmark 1-0 Holland: Krohn-Dehli goal provides the first surprise of the tournament

June 10, 2012

Michael Krohn-Dehli
“Holland had the majority of possession and chances, but Denmark snatched the three points. Morten Olsen chose the XI that was widely expected to start the game, in a rough 4-2-3-1 formation. Bert van Marwijk’s starting selection was also as predicted, with Ron Vlaar in the side to replace the injured Joris Mathijsen. Jetro Willems became the youngest player in European Championship history at left-back.” Zonal Marking

Three Thoughts: Denmark gives the Netherlands more to worry about
“1. The defensive worries for the Dutch were not overstated. The Netherlands created enough chances to win this game twice over. But at the back, things were actually worse than the pessimists had anticipated. Every time Denmark ventured forward in wide positions, the Oranje fullbacks looked vulnerable. The problem was partly due to the two “controllers” — Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong — being too slow to come out to center to cover. But that didn’t excuse the utter sluggishness from Gregory van der Wiel and Jetro Willems in the one-v.-ones against decent, but not exactly stellar, opposition.” SI

Dutch face uphill battle in Group B
“All week long the Dutch have said that nothing less than winning the European Championships will do. If they’re to end a 24-year drought at major tournaments, a drought that belies their immense talent, it’ll have to happen the hard way. After losing 1-0 to Denmark in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Saturday, simply advancing from the Group of Death will take some doing. The mighty Germans are up next and Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk knows it’s a must-win game.” ESPN (Video)

Euro 2012 Day 2: Dutch loss a big story, but don’t overlook the Danes
“There were two things that the managers of Netherlands and Denmark agreed on before the teams met on a clammy Saturday evening in Kharkiv, Ukraine: The Dutch were the favorites, and their players are ‘arrogant in a good way.'” SI

Germany 1-0 Portugal: Gomez gets the nod upfront, and nods in the only goal

June 10, 2012

“The quietest of Euro 2012’s four games so far ended with a narrow German victory. Jogi Löw had a few decisions to make – Mario Gomez, rather than Miroslav Klose, started upfront and Mats Hummels was picked over Per Mertesacker in the centre of defence. At right-back, Jerome Boateng played up against Cristiano Ronaldo, despite rumours that Lars Bender would be played out of position there.” Zonal Marking

Three Thoughts: Germany holds off Portugal 1-0, but could be better
“1. Germany has room to grow, but adjustments may be needed. His 2010 World Cup side was devastating on the counterattack, but this time around Germany manager Joachim Loew has opted for a far more possession-oriented approach. The thing is, he’s been working on tweaking the philosophy without changing the personnel. But here’s the reality: Against a team that defends well and denies the space behind, Germany is going to struggle with a trio of Thomas Mueller, Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski.” SI

Euro 2012: Mario Gomez goal gives Germany victory over Portugal
“It took a long time coming but there was a sense of inevitability that Germany would eventually wear Portugal down. Their slow, methodical approach had failed to deliver reward and Mario Gomez was close to being withdrawn when one more patient buildup yielded a precious goal for the Bayern Munich striker and the breakthrough Germany so badly needed. Miroslav Klose, who was ready to replace Gomez, returned to the bench and Germany’s Euro 2012 campaign was up and running.” Guardian

Russia 4-1 Czech Republic: Russia’s Zenit-style counter-attacking exposes Czech weaknesses

June 9, 2012

Roman Shirokov
“Russia made a terrific start to their Euro 2012 campaign with a high quality counter-attacking performance. Dick Advocaat named his expected side – a 4-3-3 system, with Vyacheslav Malafeev in goal. Michel Bilek’s side featured one alteration from the expected XI – Michal Kadlec moved to the left, where he frequently played during qualification, which meant Roman Hubnik playing at centre-back, and no place for David Limbersky. Russia were simply the better side throughout the game – more organised defensively, and showcasing much more penetration going forward.” Zonsl Marking

Russia too strong for Czechs
“Andrei Arshavin frustrated Arsenal fans this season, but he remains a joy in interviews. Call him a thoughtful, philosophical chap. Here was more proof as Arshavin discussed Russia’s mindset. ‘To put it simply, what lies in the Russian character, and why someone might consider us a dark horse, is that we can lose against every team and we can win against every team,’ he told” ESPN (Video)

Three thoughts from Russia’s 4-1 victory over the Czech Republic
“1. Russia is excitingly fluid. The potential was always there. This is a Russian side that has been together for a long time. All of the starting XI apart from Alan Dzagoev either played at Euro 2008 or would have played if not for injury or withdrawal. Six of the starting outfielders also play for Zenit St Petersburg, providing Russia with a greater mutual understanding than just about any side at the European Championship. On Friday, that chemistry paid off: With Aleksandr Kerzhakov’s natural inclination to drop deep and operate almost as a false nine, Andrei Arshavin and Dzagoev’s cutting in from the flanks and Aleksandr Anyukov and Yuri Zhirkov overlapping from full back, Russia was superbly fluent.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Poland 1-1 Greece: Poland start brilliantly but Greece adjust admirably after red card

June 9, 2012

“One goal each, one red card each, and one point each in an entertaining opening game of Euro 2012. Poland went with their expected side – there were no real debates to be settled in the starting line-up, and Franciszek Smuda used his usual structured yet energetic 4-2-3-1 system. Fernando Santos had two major decisions to make. The first was in goal, where Kostas Chalkias was chosen from Greece’s three distinctly average goalkeepers. The second choice was on the right of the front three, where Sotiris Ninis started over Dimitris Salpingidis. This was a game of three phases: 11 v 11, 11 v 10, 10 v 10. Both sides looked in a commanding position at one stage, but a draw was a fair result.” Zonal Marking

Greece, Poland play to 1-1 draw in opening match of Euro 2012
“Greece missed its chance for a stunning comeback victory, botching a penalty kick, then hanging on for a 1-1 draw with co-host Poland in the opening match of the European Championship on Friday. Both teams had players expelled, including Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.” SI

Dimitris Salpingidis the savior
“As Dimitris Salpingidis stood in the mixed zone, the grin on his face was akin to that of a burglar who had just made off with the heist of a lifetime. Indeed, in his back pocket he not only held the hopes of his suffering countrymen back home in Greece, but those of a Polish nation desperate to start off its hosting of Euro 2012 in style. That Poland was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw was in no small part because of his efforts.” ESPN

Euro 2012: England humbled by Auschwitz pain and misery as Wayne Rooney vows it will never be forgotten

June 9, 2012

“Wayne Rooney and the England players kept coming back to the same photograph, the image of the SS doctor, Heinz Thilo, standing on the ramp at Birkenau and signalling whether the distressed, disorientated souls stumbling from railway wagons would work or go straight to the gas chambers.” Telegraph – Henry Winter

The Reducer: The Big Stories at Euro 2012

June 8, 2012

“Euro 2012 kicks off Friday at National Stadium in Warsaw. The producers of the Turin Olympics opening ceremony are in charge of the festivities in Poland, and it has been reported that the tournament will be inaugurated, musically, with a performance of Frédéric Chopin’s Etude in A Minor.” Grantland (YouTube)

Why You Should Root for Denmark in Euro 2012

June 8, 2012

“International football tournaments follow a fairly predictable script. The two most predictable scenes, after England failing to live up to the hype and the Dutch being eliminated on penalties, are the precocious young player who impresses and the small country that captures the hearts and minds of casual fans. When Euro 2012 kicks off this weekend in Poland and Ukraine, those looking for an underdog to support and a young player to discover need not look any further than Denmark and their young star Christian Eriksen. There are many reasons to support both.” Grantland (Video)

Gavin Hamilton Euro 2012 diary: Warsaw, June 8

June 8, 2012

“Welcome to Warsaw! Euro 2012 is slowly cranking into life after yesterday’s bank holiday in the Polish capital; victory for the hosts over Greece in this evening’s match may be the tonic the tournament needs to capture the imagination of the Polish people.” World Soccer

12 Potential Stars for Euro 2012

June 7, 2012

Luuk de Jong
“A glance at the odds provided by European bookmakers for who will be named player of the tournament at Euro 2012 offers something of an insight into who fans are likely to be lauding when the event ends in Kiev on July 1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribéry, Mesut Özil, Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Xavi. They are the elite of the elite, and they’re all listed.” NYT (Video)

The Luka Modric mystique

June 7, 2012

“Luka Modric is an unusual footballer. The Croatian midfielder, who plays his club football in the Premier League for Tottenham Hotspur, is the strangest of players: a star who doesn’t seem to shine. For the first few minutes that you watch Modric in action, it’s difficult to work out exactly what he does. He gets the ball and gives it to someone else who promptly runs off and does something much more exciting with it. Then he runs — but not very fast. And look — now look at him. He’s standing still. And he’s raising his arms in triumph.” ESPN

Euro 2012 preview: France

June 7, 2012

“Whatever happens at this tournament, Euro 2012 will be an improvement on the sheer embarrassment of World Cup 2010 for France. The off-field problems meant it was almost impossible to determine how good a side France could have been, and therefore it’s difficult to judge how well Laurent Blanc has performed. But then, repairing the morale of the squad was key, and Blanc seems to have handled that well; his side are now on a 22-match unbeaten run.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Ukraine
“It’s difficult to make a case for Ukraine performing well at this competition. They have home advantage, of course (they wouldn’t be here otherwise) but in the long-term they’ve had four coaches in four years, and in the short-term their squad has been suffering from food poisoning, which has hampered pre-tournament preparations.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 previews: general themes

June 6, 2012

Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Arjen Robbe
“Team-by-team previews are on their way later today. But, to save repetition in many articles, here are some general themes based upon recent international tournaments…” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Holland
“After a reputation for playing beautiful football was undermined by Holland’s brutal performance in the 2010 World Cup final, Holland’s strategy in the past two years has been an interesting balancing act – Bert van Marwijk wants to look as if he’s moved on to a more open style of football, but remains reluctant to abandon the structure and functionality that took Holland to the World Cup final in the first place.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Spain
“Spain didn’t win World Cup 2010 through pure tiki-taka. They won because they mixed tiki-taka with different options that brought more directness and urgency to their play.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Germany
“They didn’t win the competition, but Germany hit the greatest heights at World Cup 2010. While Spain embarked on a series of controlled but rather uninspiring 1-0 victories, Germany hit four goals past Australia, England and Argentina.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Czech Republic
“Michal Bilek hasn’t been particularly popular during his time as Czech Republic coach, but he has assembled a well-organised, functional side that mixes experience with youth.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Greece
“Greece aren’t overwhelmingly different from the team that shocked Europe to win Euro 2004. They’re not as extreme in their negativity, and not as effective, but are still broadly defensive and their main threat will come from set-pieces.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Italy
“In many ways, Cesare Prandelli isn’t a typical Italian coach. He’s a highly intelligent man, but one doesn’t think of him as a pure tactician like Marcello Lippi, Giovanni Trapattoni or Fabio Capello. He’s of an Arsene Wenger figure – he wants an overall, attacking philosophy rather than lots of specific tactics, and likes developing young players to suit his footballing identity.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: England
“Roy Hodgson was the right choice as England coach – at least in the short-term – but realistically, you can’t expect a side to play good football when their coach is appointed a month before the tournament.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Croatia
“Of the 16 teams in this competition, Croatia are one of the hardest to define. They seem trapped between a few different ways of playing, and don’t have a specific footballing identity.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Sweden
“For the first time since World Cup 1994, Sweden are at a major international tournament without Lars Lagerback. Now in charge of Iceland, Lagerback was at the helm for so long (first as a joint-coach with Tommy Soderberg, then in sole charge) that his footballing style -organised, defensive – became merged with Sweden’s footballing style, to the point where it was difficult to tell the difference between the two, at least to an outsider.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Denmark
“It’s impossible to think of Denmark at the European Championships without thinking of their astonishing victory 20 years ago. Then, they triumphed at Euro 92 despite not qualifying for the tournament initially…yet they’re even more of outsiders this time around.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Russia
“There are many lessons to take from Spain’s dominance of international football over the past few years, and an important one has been the importance of bringing a solid club connection to international level.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Ireland
“It is a decade since Ireland last qualified for a major international tournament, and the three biggest stars from the 2002 World Cup will represent Ireland again here – Shay Given in goal, Damien Duff on the wing and Robbie Keane upfront.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Portugal
“Such is their habit for producing a certain type of footballer, it rather feels like we’ve encountered a Portugal side with these strengths and weaknesses many times before.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 preview: Poland
“Poland come into this tournament with the lowest world ranking of the 16 competitors, but they are certainly not the weakest side in the competition.” Zonal Marking

The Question: Does 4-4-2 work for England?

June 6, 2012

“‘In 1966, English football changed forever. Alf Ramsey led his wingless wonders to the World Cup and Allen Wade sat down to start writing the FA Guide to Training and Coaching, a book that, published the following year, became a Bible to a generations of coaches. Wade’s thinking chimed with that of Ramsey, whose success legitimised an approach that might otherwise have been thought of as overly negative.” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Euro 2012: France – an animated history – video

June 6, 2012

“James Richardson rounds off our series of potted animated international football histories with France, all the way from early humblings at home to old rivals England and through to their three truly great teams, via dominance in their own back jardin. You can watch the Germany, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Spain and England animated histories too” Guardian – James Richardson (Video)

Once a fan favorite, Franck Ribery seeks redemption in Euro 2012

June 6, 2012

“Like all the best rags-to-riches stories, this one has a twist. In fact, Franck Ribery’s story dovetails nicely with that of the France national team: both were loved and supported after reaching the 2006 World Cup final, and both were vilified following the strike threat in protest of Nicolas Anelka’s exclusion from the squad four years later. Neither has been completely forgiven, but Euro 2012 offers the perfect opportunity for redemption.” SI

Euro 2012 Preview: Ukraine

June 6, 2012

“Co-host Ukraine’s preparations for the tournament have been chaotic. Myron Markevych was forced to re-sign as coach in 2010 following a bribery scandal at Metalist Kharkiv, the club he continued to manage while running the national team. He had overseen four friendlies, three wins and one draw, and the sense until his departure was that everything was steadily improving. He was replaced by Yuri Kalitvintsev, who led the Under-19 side to the European Championship in 2009, but in seven months as caretaker, Ukraine won just one of eight matches. So it was Oleh Blokhin, the former star of Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s Dynamo Kiev side, who took charge.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Panorama In Poland & Ukraine – A Polish Perspective

June 4, 2012

“With just a week to go before the start of the 2012 European Championships, the BBC stands accused of spreading alarmism over concerns regarding crowd trouble and racism at this summers tournament. Patryk Malinski felt that there was plenty left to be desired in this particulate programme.” twohundredpercent

Poland, Panorama and progress
“I’ve been in the stadium when it’s happened. I have witnessed as my club gets hammered by their fierce rivals, losing five goals on the way down to the third division. The news have broken up pretty quickly on the stands, soon everybody knew. Something had happened, indeed. Just on the street leading to the stadium, two huge groups, two armies of hooligans have clashed. Later it was announced that police arrested almost 230 football hooligans. One person died.” The Football Ramble

Euro 2012: Croatia tactics and key questions – the expert’s view

June 4, 2012

“Slaven Bilic has proved to be flexible when it comes to formations. The Croatia manager can switch from 4‑1‑3‑2 to 4‑2‑3‑1, 4‑3‑3 or 4‑4‑2 – but usually in some sort of modified, unorthodox fashion. He does not think formations play a crucial role and is far more likely to rely on individual instructions as one of the few international managers who is prepared to employ five or six attack-minded players. It could be argued, however, that in Croatia’s case this is done out of necessity rather than any determination to play attacking football.” Guardian

Euro 2012: Spain tactics and key questions – the expert’s view
“Winners of the last two major championships – Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – Spain go into the European Championship as favourites for the first time in their history. That does not bother them because for a while now they have always been at their best in official matches, but not in friendlies, where they have been matched by smaller rivals such as Costa Rica or Mexico, and beaten by more substantial opponents such as Italy, Argentina, England and Portugal. The makeup of the squad, however, produces few questions, beyond those raised by the absence of David Villa (broken tibia) and any tactical tweak that Vicente Del Bosque may affect at the back.” Guardian

Euro 2012: Republic of Ireland tactics and key questions – the expert’s view
“Many in the game consider the formation to be outdated now but Giovanni Trapattoni makes no apologies for being slightly old fashioned and he is a great believer in the 4-4-2 that his Ireland team have played in almost every outing since he took the job four years ago.” Guardian

Euro 2012 – a World Cup without Brazil?

June 4, 2012

“A Rio newspaper on Sunday asserted that the European Championship is a World Cup without Brazil and Argentina. It is an expression used on both sides of the Atlantic – but that does not make it fair. European teams have disputed the last two World Cup finals but the continent also provides some of the dullest teams in the tournament. The phrase is unfair on Africa and Asia, where South Korea have made a consistent contribution to recent World Cups. If they needed home advantage to reach the semi-finals in 2002, then so did England in 1966 and France in 1998 to register their only wins.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Euro 2012: Andriy Shevchenko dreams Kiev final provides fitting end

June 4, 2012

“This has been a year of extraordinary, sentimental finales. From Zambia in the Africa Cup of Nations to Chelsea in the Champions League via Manchester City’s last-gasp triumph in the Premier League, football has wrung every drop of drama and emotion from its climaxes. On 1 July, Andriy Shevchenko hopes there might just be another – this time one tinged with poignancy and followed by a farewell. ‘For the last five years I’ve hardly thought about anything but the European Championship that will be held in my country,’ the 35-year-old says. ‘It’s fair to say this has extended my career. It’s my dream.'” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson

Xavi, Pirlo, Carrick, Modric… A Tactical And Statistical Analysis of Deep-Lying Playmakers in 2011-12

June 4, 2012

“With the death of the traditional number 10 many of Europe’s top sides have looked to other areas of the pitch for the creative spark, which has seen the rise of the ‘inverted forward’ or ‘inverted play-maker,’ who dictates the play from wider positions. As well as this we have seen the number 10 move back to a number 6 with the rise of the deep-lying play-maker. Players that look to collect the ball off the back four or keeper and spread the play from deep positions.” Just Football

Spain: Euro 2012 preview

June 2, 2012

“Spain are the world and European champions. They qualified for this summer’s competition with an eight-wins-from-eight record. They hold the world record for winning 14 competitive games in a row. And they followed up their qualifying campaign with a stunning 5-0 victory in a friendly against Venezuela that showcased them at their very best. Success at Euro 2008 and in South Africa two years later did not just wipe out the past, it provided a road map for the future.” World Soccer – Spain: Euro 2012 preview, Ukraine: Euro 2012 preview, Sweden: Euro 2012 preview, Russia: Euro 2012 preview, Republic of Ireland: Euro 2012 preview, Portugal: Euro 2012 preview, Poland: Euro 2012 preview, Italy: Euro 2012 preview, Holland: Euro 2012 preview, Greece: Euro 2012 preview, Germany: Euro 2012 preview, France: Euro 2012 preview, England: Euro 2012 preview, Denmark: Euro 2012 preview, Croatia: Euro 2012 preview

French hero Thuram working to battle racism in soccer and society

June 2, 2012

“Five years ago, to illustrate the development of mankind, scientists at the Musée de L’Homme in Paris chose three human skulls: the fossil of a generic Cro-Magnon; the cranium of philosopher René Descartes; and a facsimile of the strikingly active and wide-ranging brain of Lilian Thuram, the Guadeloupe-born defender and longtime captain of the French national soccer team.” SI

Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate

May 31, 2012

“With just days to go before the kick-off of the Euro 2012 championships, Panorama reveals shocking new evidence of racist violence and anti-semitism at the heart of Polish and Ukrainian football and asks whether tournament organiser UEFA should have chosen both nations to host the prestigious event.” YouTube: 1/2, 2/2. BBC Panorama – Euro 2012 – Stadiums Of Hate (Full Episode)

BBC – Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate
“With just days to go before the kick-off of the Euro 2012 championships, Panorama reveals shocking new evidence of racist violence and anti-Semitism at the heart of Polish and Ukrainian football and asks whether tournament organiser UEFA should have chosen both nations to host the prestigious event.” BBC

Stadiums of Hate or Sensationalist Journalism?
“Anti-Semitic chanting, monkey noises, Nazi graffiti and a former captain of England, Sol Campbell giving the juiciest of pull quotes: “Don’t go to EURO 2012, or you might come back in a coffin.” The BBC’s flagship documentary programme, Panorama, has it all. But does the documentary, broadcast to a probably horrified audience in the UK on Monday, give a true picture of how dangerous it will be for Black, Asian, or Jewish fans visiting matches in Poland and Ukraine?” New Eastern Europe

Panorama: Stadiums of Hate – a Polish fan’s response from the stands
“Crossing the line is a tough thing to do, even if you step on someone’s foot or make a mistake that hurts. When the BBC aired their Panorama: Stadiums of Hate programme just few days before Euro 2012 kicks off, one would think that the state of Polish football is determined by what is happening on the stands. And if you are to believe the programme there is Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism everywhere.” Independent

Euro 2012 – The Runners & Riders: Spain

May 31, 2012

“From perennial under-achievers to perpetual favourites in considerably less than ten years, the first decade of the twenty-first century was the one that transformed the world’s perception of the Spanish national football team. Spain began the new century living very much down to people’s expectations, with a quarter-final defeat at the 2000 European Championships being followed up with a quarter-final defeat in the World Cup two years later and a first round elimination at Euro 2004. At some time around the middle of the decade, though, something clicked and Spain became all-conquering and fearsome. They matched France’s turn of the century achievement of winning the European Championships and the World Cup back-to-back – albeit in reverse order – and go into this summers finals as the favourites to win the tournament again.” twohundredpercent

For Croatia
“As has sadly become a hallmark of Slaven Bilic’s managerial reign, Croatia made tough work of their eventually successful qualification campaign. Having, as Scott Carson will no doubt remember, trumped England to the last European Championships, Croatia failed to make the cut for the 2010 South African World Cup. Here then, drawn in a relatively manageable qualification group, Croatia looked certain to shake off the blip in their progress that was 2010 and ride happily into the Ukrainian-Polish sunset. But as is often the case in qualification groups spread over long months and years, the perceived most formidable nation didn’t prevail, as seasoned underdogs and overachievers Greece, enjoying more footballing than economic success, finished top of the group.” In Bed With Maradona

Latest Italian match-fixing scandal met with both fury and weary resignation

May 28, 2012

“With a major international football tournament on the horizon Italy has once again been seized by a huge investigation into match-fixing. As yet it hasn’t reached the magnitude of the 2006 Calciopoli affair, which presaged Italy’s World Cup triumph, but after police raided both the quarters of the national team and the home of Antonio Conte, manager of the Italian champions, Juventus, it’s set to make as least as big a splash. The roots of the latest scandal lie in the summer of 2011. After a member of Serie B side Cremonese suffered a serious car crash, tests showed that he and other members of the team had been drugged with sleeping pills.” Guardian – James Richardson

Italy’s Euro 2012 camp hit by dawn police raid
“An Italian footballer has pulled out of Italy’s national squad just days before the European football championships after he was placed under investigation in a widening match-fixing scandal. Police officers swooped on the Italian national squad’s training camp at dawn on Monday to search the room of defender Domenico Criscito and inform him that he is under investigation.” Guardian (Video)

Euro 2012: The Runners & Riders – Denmark

May 28, 2012

“It seems inconceivable that anyone will be able to mention Denmark in relation to the European Championships without turning the clock back twenty years, to when the Danes were hastily assembled following the forced withdrawal of Yugoslavia from that summers tournament in Sweden and then went and won the entire tournament. The Danes haven’t been quite as fortunate since, but they are a team that consigned one of their group opponents in this summers tournament to a play-off place. Even though they start this tournament as the outsiders to get through the group stages, it would be foolish to merely write them off as cannon fodder for Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.” twohundredpercent

For Denmark
“If the tournament was to be decided by experience, Denmark would win hands down. Coach Morten Olsen is preparing to lead the Danes into a major tournament for the fourth time. Few coaches in world football can compete with that record and that is a testament to the popularity of the Dane in his home land as well as the expectations placed on him that he is still seen as the man to lead the Vikings into the tournament.” In Bed With Maradona

Euro 2012: The Runners & Riders – Germany

May 26, 2012

“It is now sixteen years since Germany last won a major international tournament. This (perhaps surprisingly long) period of time hasn’t been without its fair share of pain, but to suggest that this is some sort of drought when when they’ve reached the World Cup final, the World Cup semi-final and the European Championship final in those intervening years would be something of a push. More interestingly, the image of the German national team has been overhauled in recent years. If the old image of the team was built upon the joyless performances of West Germany at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain and could be visualised as the seemingly perpetually growling face of Harald Schumacher, its replacement was perhaps best demonstrated by two fluid and flexible thrashings handed out in successive matches to England and Argentina in the World Cup finals two years ago. This German national team – fallible and invigorating, capable in equal measures of outstanding brilliance and handing out doses of both agony and ecstasy to its supporters – is possibly the most eagerly anticipated of all sixteen competitors at this summers tournament.” twohundredpercent

Euro 2012: The Runners & Riders – Portugal
“It would be a stretch to call Portugal under-achievers, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that they could be considered the nearly men of European international football. This is a country which has periodically come close in recent years to winning a major trophy without actually lifting one, but the development of football in Portugal to even this point has come after decades of being considered a relative backwater in international terms, even though its biggest clubs have been winning trophies at the highest level since the nascent years of pan-continental club football. This summer, however, a fiendish draw and the ongoing suspicion that the team has the unfortunate ability to not live up to the sum of its parts may mean that its involvement in the European Championships could be curtailed early.” twohundredpercent

Euro 2012 – The Runners & Riders: The Netherlands
“With the benefit of hindsight, there seems something inevitable about the crowning of Spain as the world champions in South Africa two years ago. Yet the Netherlands came within minutes of taking the match to a penalty shoot-out and since then have continued the form that they demonstrated, becoming, in August of last year, only the second team in the history of the game to reach number one in FIFAs world rankings without having won the tournament. The Dutch team remains one of the favourites to win this summer’s competition, but the side that fought – in some respects literally – its way to the finals of the World Cup won few friends on the way, and represented something of a break with the in some ways idealistic traditions of the team with its defensive and aggressive system.” twohundredpercent

For Poland

May 25, 2012

“Erm, they voted for Michel Platini! It’s widely reported that the tournament hosting rights were handed to Poland and Ukraine as a ‘thank you’ from Platini, for the Eastern European national football associations voting for him in the UEFA Presidential Elections. As the co-hosts, Poland haven’t had to qualify for the tournament; and therefore have not played a competitive game since their World Cup Qualifying loss to Slovakia back in October 2009!” In Bed With Maradona

For Ukraine
“Ukraine have managed to sneak their way into the competition via the backdoor, due to the fact that they automatically gained a place upon UEFA accepting their bid to jointly host the tournament. Being the host nation of a major international tournament allows for the enjoyment of vociferous local support as well as the comfort of taking to the pitch in familiar surroundings and climes. Such advantages are well documented and for Ukraine this situation could well play into their hands.” In Bed With Maradona

For Russia
“The Russian journey to (relatively) nearby Poland and Ukraine should, by all rights, have been a relatively comfortable one. Only the Republic of Ireland looked like posing them any real threat in a fairly lightweight group, and so domestic expectations were high, especially given the national side’s impressive outing at the last European Championships. However, when a routine victory over Andorra in the opening match was followed by a defeat to Slovakia on home soil, the alarm bells began to ring. A controlled 3-2 win in Ireland and a gritty 1-0 over FYR Macedonia may have steadied the ship, but when the side travelled to Armenia and emerged only with an insipid goalless draw to show for their efforts, the media sharpened their knives for Dick Advocaat and his men – the manager was clueless, star player Andrei Arshavin was past it, and the team didn’t care.” In Bed With Maradona

For Italy
“Beginning with straight-forward wins over Estonia and Faroe Islands as well as a hard-fought draw with Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Italy’s relatively simple path to Poland and Ukraine was all but sealed when Serbian Ultra’s caused their game in Genoa to be called off. Eventually awarded as a 3-0 win to the home side, it saw Cesare Prandelli’s men take a virtually unassailable lead at the top of the standings which they would never relinquish. Dropping just four points and scoring twenty goals while conceding just twice, it was one of the most dominant qualification campaigns the Azzurri have ever enjoyed. While the quality of the opposition can be called into question – as Republic of Ireland’s dismantling of second placed Estonia in the playoffs clearly attests – Italy should rightly be a team to fear once the tournament proper gets underway.” In Bed With Maradona

For Ireland
“It wouldn’t really be a Republic of Ireland qualifying campaign without a trip to the playoffs. Thankfully there was no repeat of the heartache suffered against France in the qualifiers for the last World Cup as Estonia were easily dealt with 5-1 over the two legs. Ireland finished second in a tricky group which also featured Russia, Armenia, Slovakia, Macedonia, and Andorra. They lost only once, at home to the Russians, but conceded just seven goals as Giovanni Trapattoni defensive mindedness came out on top as it has done many times in the past.” In Bed With Maradona

For the Netherlands

May 23, 2012

“With relative ease. In Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – a player revitalised since his move to Schalke and the first Dutchman to top the Bundesliga scoring charts – the Dutch had the qualifying campaign’s top scorer. Huntelaar bagged twelve, three more than Miroslav Klose and a mile ahead of the rest, even though he only got two of the 11 the Netherlands put past the hapless San Marino in Eindhoven. Key results were a brace of 1-0 wins over Moldova – ever the proverbial banana skin – a 4-1 win over Sweden in Amsterdam where Huntelaar and Ibrahim Afellay both scored twice and a thrilling 5-3 win over Hungary. Having gone to Budapest four days previously and won 4-0, the return in Amsterdam saw Robin van Persie give the Dutch an early lead. By the time the second half was five minutes old, Hungary led. Wesley Sneijder levelled and Ruud van Nistelrooy restored the lead, but within minutes Zoltan Gera’s second squared it up again. The Dutch kicked on and two late Dirk Kuyt goals sealed a crucial win.” In Bed With Maradona

Euro 2012 – The Runners & Riders: The Czech Republic

May 17, 2012

“One could forgive the Czech Republic for being a little circumspect in their preparations for the 2012 European Championships. Having failed to qualify for the World Cup finals again two years ago – they’ve only qualified for one World Cup finals since the division of the Czechoslovakia’s national football team split into two early in 1994 – their qualification for this European Championships was modest and unspectacular. They scored only twelve goals in their eight qualifying matches, of which they lost three including a home defeat in their opening match against Lithuania. With Spain winning the group by an almost inhumane eleven points, the Czech Republic squeezed through to the finals with a comfortable win against Montenegro.” twohundredpercent

Euro 2012: The Runners & Riders – Russia
“The Russian national team could be forgiven for treating all matches up to the 2018 World Cup finals as a warm up for that competition. After all, the amount of money being spent on the first tournament to be held in the country will be vast and expectations amongst the Russian public will be accordingly high. Russia, however, have spent most of the last two decades or so since the break-up of the Soviet Union singularly failing to set the world of international football alight and there is little to suggest that this summer will see a significant improvement from them.” twohundredpercent

Euro 2012: The Runners And Riders – Greece

May 13, 2012

The Battle of Aboukir, Antoine-Jean Gros
“There is now less than a month to go until the European Championships kick off in Poland and Ukraine, and taking on the co-hosts in the opening match will be a nation that caused arguably the biggest surprise in the history of the competition: Greece. But with a new coach and having caused something of a surprise just to reach the last sixteen of this tournament, can Greece roll back the years to the summer of 2004?” twohundredpercent

Euro 2012: The Runners And Riders – Poland
“With slightly less than a month to go until the start of the 2012 European Championships, it’s time for us to kick off our previews of the sixteen nations that will be competing at this summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine. We’re doing this in order of the groups drawn, so we’ll start with everything you probably don’t need to know about one of this summer’s co-hosts, Poland.” twohundredpercent

After changes, England in clueless state heading toward Euro 2012

April 1, 2012

Stuart Pearce
“Plucky England, fighting back from two down only to be thwarted by a deflected last-minute winner. A brave effort from Psycho’s young lions. Pleasing fluency at times. The start of a bold new era for English football. … As a response to a single game played with a youthful side under a caretaker manager, such commentary made a certain sense. But the crucial thing to remember after England’s 3-2 defeat to Holland last Wednesday was context.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Germany’s defense gives Löw cause for concern ahead of Euros

March 2, 2012

Joachim Low
“Was it really ‘a wonderful defeat,’ as Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote? The supporters in the Weserstadion had certainly shown little leniency with their team at the final whistle, when the Germany players were jeered and booed on their way into the changing room.” SI

For Spain, no time for nostalgia

February 29, 2012

“If there is one thing in football that not only sells stories but also gives off very nearly the same degree of endorphins as a brilliant live match, it is nostalgia. We drink to it, we daydream of it, and like a life belt in a sea of mediocrity, it can salvage something beautiful from the stormiest of times for your club or country.” ESPN

Laurent Blanc’s France side are still searching for an identity

February 29, 2012

“For a team protecting an unbeaten record that now stretches to 543 days, France will approach Wednesday night’s friendly against Germany in Bremen with a surprising degree of uncertainty. Since going down 1-0 at home to Belarus in Laurent Blanc’s first competitive game in charge, in September 2010, France have qualified for Euro 2012 – without recourse to the play-offs – and enjoyed friendly wins over England, Brazil and the US (as well as some forgettable draws against Croatia, Chile and Belgium).” Guardian

World Cup conspiracy theories won’t go away

December 9, 2011

“A throwback to an era of Cold War paranoia is the latest wave of conspiracy theories which will still be circulating long after the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 have been relegated to football’s history books.” World Soccer

Euro 2012 Draw In ‘Not That Dull’ Shock

December 7, 2011

“Is Group C of the Euro 2012 finals – Croatia, Italy, Ireland and Spain – the most catholic group in international football tournament finals history? That thought occurred with the fourth team in two of next summer’s groups still to be drawn out and Italy’s and England’s balls still to be opened. When Saturday Comes magazine asked the question of one of the 2002 World Cup finals groups – also involving Italy and Croatia, alongside Mexico and Ecuador – so it wasn’t an original thought (when I have one, I’ll surely let you know).” twohundredpercent

Group B one of the toughest in European Championship history

December 4, 2011

“As ever, with thedraw for the European Championship, the first thought is how many exciting ties there are in prospect in the group stage. Holland vs. Germany, Spain vs. Italy, France vs. England, Portugal’s games against the Dutch and the Germans … this is how tournament soccer ought to be; big games at every turn. The World Cup, ludicrously bloated as it now is, doesn’t offer that sense of immediacy, of giants clashing from the off, and the fear must be that as the euros expand to 24 teams from 2016, it too will be diminished by the grind of small sides packing their half and seeking to frustrate opponents.” SI – Jonathan Wilson

Irish underdogs

December 4, 2011

“It may have seemed as if Ireland’s Euro 2012 dreams had suffered a hammer blow as they were thrown into a opening group featuring Spain, Italy and Croatia, yet the reaction in Dublin has been surprisingly upbeat as the gravity of the task facing Giovanni Trapattoni’s rank outsiders was digested.” ESPN

French fancy their chances
“It goes without saying French football owes a big debt of gratitude to Zinédine Zidane, from his headers to help win the World Cup to his silken contribution to the Euro 2000 success and even to his retribution-filled coup de boule – his ‘head-butt’ – on Marco Materazzi. Zizou added another reason for Les Bleus to be thankful to him when he produced another coup de boule – which could also mean ‘ball trick’, honestly, it works in French! – by drawing a clement Euro 2012 group for his old mate Laurent Blanc.” ESPN

An advantage to be in Group A or B for Euro 2012 – especially when it comes to the semis

December 2, 2011

“It remains to be seen how the process of today’s Euro 2012 draw will be structured, although we can assume it will be convoluted and drawn-out – certainly with long speeches and explanations, and possibly cultural dances from the two host countries. Often, the first draw involves deciding which groups the seeds go into – A, B, C or D – before determining which sides anyone will actually play. As it happens, this time around Poland have already been assigned to group A, whilst fellow hosts Ukraine have been placed in group D.” Zonal Marking

Euro 2012 Draw

December 2, 2011

“In many quarters, the European Championship is the soccer tournament, ahead of the World Cup, because there is no fluff, no Saudi Arabia, no United States, no Paraguay, no North Korea, no Honduras, no New Zealand … but also no Brazil and Argentina.” NY Times

Ireland: defensive, and no reason to change

November 17, 2011

“Giovanni Trapattoni has guided Ireland to their first major tournament for a decade, yet there are still questions about his tactics. His basic approach barely needs further explanation from the diagram on the left. There’s a standard back four, two hard-working central midfielders, two wingers who run with the ball, with a support player dropping off a main striker. It’s a 4-4-2, a 4-4-1-1 if you like, but near enough the most basic system imaginable in modern football.” Zonal Marking

Portugal 6-2 Bosnia: Portugal better all over the pitch (and Bosnia’s complete reshuffle at half-time doesn’t help)
“Paulo Bento’s side wobbled midway through the match, but overall deserved to progress to Euro 2012. Bento made no changes from the first leg, persisting with a 4-3-3 formation with Helder Postiga upfront. Safet Susic kept his midfield and attack in tact, but made suspension-related changes at the back. Sasa Papac was available again so started at left-back to replace Sejad Salihovic. This was a completely different match from the first leg – much more open and also much quicker.” Zonal Marking

Victory from the Jaws of Triumph: Ireland’s Euro 2012 So Far

October 20, 2011

“European Championship qualifying group B was a strange one: Ireland beat Armenia who beat Slovakia who beat Russia who beat Ireland (while poor fourth-seeded Macedonia looked on and whimpered). The logical progression would have been for a match to be played out between twenty-two footballs kicking a man around the pitch. That man turned out to be Richard Dunne, and the final score was Russia 0-0 Ireland, a result you could only call miraculous if you consider Dunne to be a gift from heaven. (Full disclosure: I do.) But things would have got even weirder had Slovakia beaten Russia last Friday. This wouldn’t have been odd per se: they had already beaten Russia away from home. But it would have left Ireland atop the group. That’s the weird part.” Run of Play

Bad start for new Argentina coach

October 18, 2011

“Last Tuesday when Venezuela beat Argentina in the second round of South America’s World Cup qualifiers it was historic, but hardly surprising. Venezuela have been making dramatic strides, had home advantage and were taking on an especially vulnerable Argentina side – whose 4-1 win at home to Chile the previous Friday may have disguised the fact.” BBC – Tim Vickery

Latin America’s power struggle
“Just a few rounds gone and, of the nine teams in contention, only two have yet to win a game. The other seven already have one success to their name, but nobody has two. The figures don’t just show it, they shout it: World Cup qualification in South America is more competitive than anywhere else on the planet.” ESPN – Tim Vickery